|16 I am a buoy in a swamp|
|I am a buoy in a swamp.
I am a water-logged corpse, bloated and partially melted, drifting in murk.
Every so often I float through a bloom of algae to the surface, where I see
Letitia looking down at me. Or Syd. Or maybe some home care nurse.
People’s faces interchange, voices blend.
Syd, or Letitia, says, How much did you take?
Enough! She is cross with me for that answer, scowling. It must be Letitia. Syd doesn’t scowl.
Keep my hand, keep it. The current is taking me. I like the warm current but if it takes me it will be hours before I come back around to you. Don’t let go.
She says tu est dans ton lit, Thierry. You are in bed. Tu est chez toi. You are home.
Don’t let go. I’m sinking again. It’s nice to sink, but I want to say things.
Why won’t she call? Why won’t she write? Where is she among all the party girls and the liberated women? Is my touch toxic?
Je ne comprends rien! she says. Tu parles en allemand. German? Don’t be ridiculous!
Speak French, she says.
I berate her for what feels like an hour before I realize I am in fact addressing her in German.
Letitia, do you understand me now? Am I speaking French? Oui, Thierry. Oui. Vas-y. Go on.
I love her, and I make her sick. Why am I the least bit surprised she has fled, when I yearn to worship her purity as much as I want to drown it in silt and slime?
You think everything is always about you, Thierry, like most men. Maybe she is just heart-broken, or has some obligation unrelated to you. You are such an egotist. An incorrigible egotist.
I confess! Everything you say is true!
You’re speaking in German again, Thierry.
It’s true. I cannot see her as anything but something which is drawn to me or from me repulsed!
Repose toi, she says. Rest. Rest.
Rest? Rest? You tell me to rest? I am rest! I am rest! I am rest given flesh! I am surrender given shape! I am the strangulation of the will and its coronation above all! I am the Earth’s hot clay, clean and dirty all at once, wet as a womb and a rain-soaked grave, warm as a lover’s embrace carrying you off to sleep!
I sink again and come to, how much later? What century is it? Sydney? Sydney?
Tu est reveillé, she says. French, so it must be Letitia. Yes. The one and only. You raved yourself to sleep, she says.
You are good to me, Letitia. Loyal. Steady. Yes, she says. You are immune to my toxicity. Yes, she says. I want Ren. I want the Lady Ren. Yes, she says.
Epouse moi. Marry me.
Marry me, tomorrow. Don’t scoff at me! I’m serious. Marry me. You shake your head and ignore me as if I’m being glib.
Repose toi, Thierry.
Go to sleep, egotist.
That wasn’t a no. Letitia? Hello?
Not you. I know you’re there. You’re always there. Leave me alone.
I want to be alone, tonight.
|15 Playing with Electricity in a Pool|
O ___ how weak the flesh! O ______ how frail the bones! O ____ how horrid your stench! O ______ ____ _____ your gibbering goes on and on!
Is now the bill due? Is this my punishment for pursuing Mademoiselle Ren? For prodding Ms. Sparks? Are you lashing back because I have let the mask drop about being more than human?
Or is it what I suspect, that this body is too fragile a conductor of the current I draw from your realms? That is how I feel, how I look: like an electrical cable whose rubber coating has been nearly burned off.
Jesus Fucking Mary, what if it scars?
When my nose is not pouring blood, I smell only one thing: the silicate-calcium-carbonate-iron-iodine and sulfur reek I imagine permeates the superheated waters around hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. I smell liquid minerals and blood.
I stain all I touch, like a split, rotting plum, like a crushed grenadine. Everything hurts. Every movement hurts. Writing hurts. Bathing hurts. My tongue hurts. Even when I lie perfectly still, my sores are alive and wriggling with those worms that should not be.
The only thing that doesn’t hurt is thinking. That, I can do. Expand the mind. Compartmentalize the mind. With one part of the mind, memorize this diary entry for future records. With another, make progress on the diagrams LelantosTech sent me. With another, plan the clean-up.
Like a snail, I left a trail of slime behind me. The pool needs draining. The patio needs scrubbing. The chaise needs hosing. The carpets and rugs need washing. The sheets need replacing. All very useful things for Letitia to oversee. Give the girl enough work, and she will not have time to ask too many questions. We have read this story before, haven’t we? The ending is the same: You stay busy, busy, busy, and soon the world seems normal again, and all is in its place until it goes inside-out again. I adore her ability to distract herself from with menial tasks from encounters with staggering truths.
Sydney witnessed nothing, I think. Except perhaps the mess. One can never tell what that one notices and thinks. I will have to learn how to distract or otherwise maneuver her.
But, now, Zoe Andrews, what must you be thinking?
The irony of it! In the midst of playing a drowning game, it is me who almost drowns!
|14 The Flowing of the Earth; the Slow Blush of the Climate|
|Friends and neighbors!
I am returning to New York, and though I rejoice to be in your company once again, you who have welcomed me so sweetly and easily, I wish, simultaneously, to order this plane turned around so that I can stay just a little longer with my new lover, my poppet, my Gobi desert.
This letter will be brief, serving only to give the character of the trip, and when we are reunited, my friends, I will have stories to tell that will flesh out this skeleton.
I traveled with two wonderful people: Sydney Sparks, my friend and newly-hired personal assistant, ever composed and staid, yet passionate about the nearly immeasurable, the inexorable flowing of the Earth itself upon itself, and the slow blush of the climate--on the one hand. On the other hand, we had with us Fabienne Lavant, a woman of staggeringly regal indignation matched only by her peerless presence and radiant beauty. Quite the trio!
I spent the trip in a constant state of astonishment and wonder, following Ms. Spark’s footsteps and fingers as if she were a desert-induced vision guiding me to wisdom and water, with Fabienne stumbling after us like a princess who’d escaped the bonds of some brutish Mongol slaver and was quickly losing her patience with the intractability of the desert.
A curious fact: Because Fabienne refused to speak in English, thus never addressing Ms. Sparks; and because, moreover, Ms. Sparks addressed me primarily, I being receptive to her conversation and explanation, it was as if neither woman was aware of the other’s presence--as if they were figments of my imagination, angel and devil, ego and id, and their words were me talking to myself, Fabienne the part of me that appreciates comfort and the finer things in life and protests at every chafe and ache, and Ms. Sparks the part of me that seeks the far reaches of spiritual wilderness, propelled by concerns celestial and terrestrial rather than those of the body. I would hear from behind me, “Quel bordel, Thierry! J’en ai marre de tous ce sable et ce frois glacial!” (“What a bloody mess, Thierry! I’ve had it with all this sand and this freezing cold!”), and in front of me I would hear, “My undergraduate thesis was on climate change in the Gobi and its impact on large-scale geology. The deeper we go, the, like, closer we are to what my research was about,” and I would want to laugh, because of the drama that was being enacted by these voices in my head!
Sometimes we climbed rocks, sometimes we held the lines as Ms. Sparks climbed. Sometimes Fabienne refused to climb until it was pointed out that Ms. Sparks had the water, and then it was fascinating to see how thirst can literally pull a poor soul over massive obstacles and through trembling misery. How proud I was of our dethroned queen Fabienne every time she caught her breath after some effort that left her dewed with cold sweat!
Sometimes we stopped to peer and poke at exposed rocks, and during these moments I tried to be the most perfect student, begging Ms. Sparks to lecture me about what we beheld; She would indulge my curiosity, giving context to the minerals in her inimitable style of speech, which can only be described as majestically American, as I mapped the crystals with my hands, smelled their age, and tasted their complexity. All the while Fabienne posed somewhere under her wide-brimmed hat, never too tired to be striking.
Ms. Spark’s happiness increased as we progressed, until she was brimming with joy and threatened to smile (knowing someone with such mastery over her own body and spirit is to learn to read emotions from the subtlest of cues), and finally we came to a ravine which she held dear in her heart. I, being a man who also holds a certain blasted patch of African bush close to heart, appreciate how attached one can be to particular features of the Earth’s crust. Whoever cannot think of one natural spot on the planet that makes his heart patter and pound, or his breath seize like a falling ribbon caught in a hand, is incomplete.
At one point, our guide--though I use the term loosely, since I considered Ms. Sparks to be our true guide--refused to take us deeper into the desert, where we wished to go. Ms. Sparks was insistent, though when it seemed she would be overruled, I had some words with the gentleman. Happily, he was persuaded, and--
But how could I forget the rock-cooked goat? Ms. Sparks showed me how to use hot rocks to cook goat. It was a dinner I will not soon forget! Even Fabienne was mollified by this feast, though I’m sad to report that Ms. Sparks seemed to be experiencing some discomfort vis-a-vis digesting meat. A shame! May her transition back to vegetarianism by swift and effortless.
There is so much more to say!
I will leave this letter abridged, and end by writing that I wished never to have to cleanse myself of the wonderful dust and the glittering sand; that, were it not for the bitter cold, I could have slipped into that mysterious ravine for the rest of my days, creeping between the lithosphere and the hard blue firmament forever!
But there are duties to attend to. And, more importantly, I miss my sweetheart, and I hope to reunite with her very soon, to trade the scent of sand for the scent of cherry blossom and sleek black hair.
|12 Sex on a Bed Littered with Moon Rocks|
|Thad Roberts and his mistress Tiffany Fowler stole $21 million in moon rocks and celebrated by having sex amid them. I cannot convey how much I love that this actually happened. It has made me euphoric, almost manic. I find it nearly impossible to type.
I must have moon rocks.
"Tiffany was equally dynamic—a firecracker and former cheerleader who spoke French in bed and conducted stem cell research on NASA's behalf. Thad wanted her, so when Tiffany begged to hear his idea to liberate the moon rocks, he told her."
"The samples they took were from every Apollo mission, ever. Sometime between the heist and its resolution, Tiffany and Thad arranged the moon rocks on a bed—and had sex amongst them."
|11 The Mind as Spume, the Body as Knower|
|I find it harder and harder to pay attention to ideas, to the abstract. People sit on a beach and think about--I haven’t the slightest idea! Hopes and fears, probably. People sit on a beach and think about what the shore means other than itself!
I sit on the beach and think about salt and sand. I know through touch. I know that the mind is spume coughed up by the surf, nothing more. What is so revolting about the world-in-itself? What is so detestable about the physical?
Even a simple garden is not safe from attempts to purify it, to disinfect it, to idealize it, to make of it something other than itself.
My friend Jal sent me a letter about his garden:
“What do plants eat? They eat dead animals; that’s the problem. For me that was a horrifying realization. You want to be an organic gardener, of course, so you keep reading ‘Feed the soil, feed the soil, feed the soil…’
“Alright. Well what does the soil want to eat? Well, it wants manure, and it wants urine, and it wants blood meal and bone meal. And I…could not face that. I wanted my garden to be pure and death-free. It didn’t matter what I wanted: plants wanted those things; they needed those things to grow.” (Jal White)
The sun digests its own guts, devouring itself in a feast that keeps going late into the night, swallowing itself even as it erupts from overindulgence, and it pours itself over the Earth, and we clever Moving Things that have found a way to trap its energy in our sinewy flywheels spend our lives building up our fatty tissues and dissolving them again, eating ourselves, eating each other, grazing the patient Standing Things for their sugars only to serve ourselves up to their roots as nitrogen and phosphates when our husks are worn to fibers.
This is not a metaphor!
I see the cycle so clearly, now, and I recognize it for what it is: Paradise!
The Garden is a garden, my friends. And gardens are places of growth and attrition, bloom and rot, taking and rendering.
This is not a metaphor!
A friend asked me if I like sex. He is not the first to observe that I seem to take it or leave it. I would have given him the long answer, but I don’t think his attention span can handle it, with how distracted he is by desires--a quality I do not disparage, by the way!
But, my friends, if you have not felt a profound wonder at the way sand falls through the sieve of your fingers, sex is wasted on you. If you have not stopped to appreciate the electric-silk texture of steel, sex is wasted on you. If the waxy skin of a leaf, and its vibrant odor when you crush it to green pulp between your fingers, does not make you even the least bit dizzy, you may as well be listening to a symphony from the roof of the concert hall, feeling only faint vibrations through the masonry on the soles of your feet and congratulating yourself on your enthusiasm for music.
This is not a metaphor!
The body can feel more. The body can know more.
Quod Verum Corpus potest Scire.
|10 Ode to Black Earth|
|Ode to Black Earth
Terra preta, terra preta, even your name is rich and heady!
Black earth, Amazonian earth, charcoal and ash, potsherd and crushed bone, trash and shit, carcass and nitrogen.
Black earth is life from death, black earth is growth from decay, black earth is delicious!
One thousand years changeless, so rare and so precious, to sink in you is to worship and luxuriate
To swim in the sun, the black sun, the sun as it is to those without eyes
One thousand years of sun beating on the Indians and watching them die
Beating on their grave mounds and their ash piles
Beating them into their own waste
Beating them into humus, into black earth
Into black earth
|9 Back at the Table, or How to Punish Your Demons with Hard Work and Sex Metaphors|
|[written in Hindi]
Imagine that. We have a little spat, O friends, and suddenly, as if by chance, entire languages slip my mind. Who would have guessed?
Well, I don’t need your Latin, or any of the others, to write as I wish. And I know how much _____ ____ _____ enjoys Chewa, but I’m not feeling very charitable at the moment. So Hindi will have to do, even if it means I have to use reference material as I go to prop up my workhorse vocabulary.
O friends, how have you liked six solid days of uninterrupted design work? There’s nothing quite like rolling up one’s sleeves and bending to the drafting table, squinting hard at the computer screen, and wrestling with physics. No visitors, no walks, no mud baths, no sauna, no progress on your nest: just brass-tacks engineering. Invigorating, isn’t it?
I’d almost forgotten the nearly erotic thrill I derive from this kind of work. There’s something about engineering that reminds me of seduction. Both activities are like a game in which the savvy player uses raw intellect, tricks, intuition, patience, and aggression to coax a mystery into revealing itself, petal after petal. With engineering and seduction equally, the chaser knows that there are teams of smart people all over the world working to get the same thing you want, and that the first one to get it wins the spoils. Something also about how the thing that is sought, the mechanism, the design, the submission, the sex—it was always there for the taking to the one who wanted it the most.
With engineering as with women, once one is enjoying the fruits of one’s labor, one sees that there never was any challenge to begin with: all mystery is illusion; all things in Nature are one.
Physics is sex.
Did you know that, O friends?
Of course, you know everything. Or so you intimate.
But now, finally, we have what we wanted. Well, what I wanted, in any case. Nothing left for today but to send out the diagrams to the boys and girls in Paris and wait for them to pick their jaws off the floor.
As for you, O friends, was there something you wanted? I seem to recall something about—
• • •
Ah. Well. This is interesting. A new gift.
Glad to know we’re all back at the negotiation table.
I can’t wait to meet some friends so I can try out this gift on them. Now, do not take this as a criticism, but, as far as fabulous powers go, this one is a little dark, wouldn’t you agree? Are we turning melancholic in our frustration, O friends?
Don’t forget that despite our differences of opinion, I still love you all, and I know you love me. And after all—
[written in Latin]
Oh, look! Wouldn’t you know? I remember Latin suddenly. Funny how that works. What a numbskull I am to forget Latin, and then mysteriously remember it just as we’re reconciling.
I really should get my head checked!
[written in French]
I should call the delicate Miss Ren and invite myself to her house.
|8 Renewing the Contract|
|[written in Chewa]
O Companions, now is the time for YOU to listen to ME.
Who deigned to let himself be used as a human palanquin?
Who has gathered onto himself the people you relish?
Who has amassed riches by dint of his own genius and capabilities?
Who is ever vigilant against those who would hunt us?
Who carries the greater share of the risk?
Who thinks rationally rather than impulsively?
Who is diplomatic toward Christian, Sikh, and Buddhist slaves for YOUR advancement?
Who dropped everything to build YOU a nest?
Who dropped everything to build YOU more nests?
Who has given over every inch of land he owns for YOUR delight?
Who delays his gratification for YOU to achieve YOURS?
I have eaten off the floor in your names, crawled through filth in your names, cocooned myself in slime in your names, baked myself to oblivion in your names, opened my home to strangers in your names, changed careers in your names, lavished praise on your names.
And there was a time you lavished praise on mine. There was a time you showed me secrets. There was a time we were partners. There was a time you were my muses, and I your champion.
Now, what do you do? Hide sullenly, like children. Criticize my every action. Scoff at my political choices which keep you safe. Struggle for control at the worst possible times, for foolish reasons. Withhold your gifts like vindictive women.
O friends, I believe you’ve forgotten our arrangement. Worse, I believe you think I have forgot our arrangement.
Maybe I have. Maybe I don’t care about your precious nest. Maybe I’d rather not be seen as a lazy fop. Maybe I don’t want to subject myself to heat and slime. Maybe I don’t want to spectate carnal acts. Maybe I’m sick of the company of vapid club girls and greasy pleasure-seekers and dull socialites and inane cultists with their potpourri “beliefs”.
Maybe I will hole myself up in the office, get out the drafting paper, fire up the computer, and see if I can’t come up with something the boys and girls over at Lelantos have never heard of.
O friends, go suck your aunt’s tit for a while.
See how you like it.
|7 How Your Pendalum Swings|
|[written in Chewa]
O ___ your guidance is incomparable! O ______ your patience exquisite! O ____ your scorn terrible! O ______ ____ _____ your appetite for clay and heat unending!
[written in Latin]
The club is being tested for the first time. My ‘compatriots’ are clearly more impulsive than I am, and I am still expecting rash behavior from them, but an agreement is an agreement, I have approached _______ about the dolls, and I will contact _____ tonight to inform her, as well. The former reacted reasonably enough. I wouldn’t have been surprised had he flown into some kind of rage or tantrum, but there was none. A promising sign. He did show me an astounding trick, a truly stupendous feat, which would come in handy in more scenarios than I can count. How fortunate that I have built some credit with him by staying true to my word! And how fortunate that the sight you lend me, O friends, allows me to see through his remarkable talents.
As for the _____, we will see. Lust and anger are volatile. Let her stomp and hiss. I will douse that fire if that need arises.
But there is more! Like attracts like, and so those who make congress with jinn, spirits, ghosts, and demons all find each other in the end. What strange friends I have made, with what strange habits.
I ran into Lexine and Mason again, who were arguing with Bunny, and watched as a rock rose up into the air as if by an invisible hand and hurled itself at Bunny. Shocking! But, O friends, you have inured me to what is shocking. I watched not the rock, but the players, and in so doing, learned something very interesting.
And that night, Lexine, probably after swallowing a surge of bile, decided to pay me a visit, and… and I don’t know what to think of it. The woman disrespects my home as an opening to serious talks about learning the information I may have; then doesn’t seem to understand why I’m annoyed, as if I should have to listen to her social commentary, refrain from answering her charges, and then be generous with my information.
And still, I was generous. I gave her her information freely and without expectations. But now I am tired of her assumptions and criticisms. I have had it with her talking to me not as an individual, but as if I am a specimen of a quaint group. She can go on thinking whatever she wants of we “richy riches” with our glittering hoards that we jealously guard. Who am I to argue?
My time is better spent coaxing people to my nest for your delight, my friends. Like Syd Sparks, the geology maiden. Riley made an easy task even easier, treating her with such overt condescension that I simply needed to be present and breathing to seem like the greater gentleman. Oh, Riley, with his precious notions of how classes should interact, so easily exploded. We are a long way from the days of the knights, who understood true chivalry. But far be it from me to teach chivalry to a knight. “Sir” indeed.
At least I can expect a visit from Syd, and we will see what she thinks of my earth and clays.
But then there is my new favorite individual, the neat, pretty little Ren. I am thrown by her maturity and her poise, and it excites me just to be alive around her, because everything means something to her, and she asks rather than tells, observes rather than describes. I’m not sure what the things are that whisper to her—whether jinn or genie, ghost or daemon—but they notice the nearly imperceptible. She knew I had tampered with the mood of the room. It seems to be something she can do as well, or something similar.
Oh, fair little Ren. So tidy and reserved. So concerned with cosmic balance. I would love to have her balance on my bed, but there is no hurry. She has invited me to her home, and I look forward to it. By the time she comes to my home, I will have the mattress of cherry blossoms, and we will lie together and discuss what is proper and what is vulgar, what is even and what is excessive.
And there is still the bet between _______ and me in my mind. I fully intend to win, if only I’m given enough time. Ren is just as unhurried as I am, but she has cracks in that porcelain skin—everyone does. Everyone has an orifice for the worm to crawl in. Lets see how your pendulum swings, little Ren.
Swing, swing, swing!
|6 We Created Them from Sticky Clay|
|Your Lord said to the angels, "I am going to create a human being out of clay. When I have formed him and breathed My Spirit into him, fall down in prostration to him!" (Qur'an, 38:71-72)
Then inquire of them: Is it they who are stronger in structure or other things We have created? We created them from sticky clay. (Qur'an, 37:11)
I come home to find Eden in my bath looking like a melted sculpture, a discarded lady-golem, her exquisite black skin all grey, as if an atom blast had left behind only her ashes. She could have been dead, or asleep, except that she opened her eyes, bright black, and found me with them, and she said, "Thierry, Thierry. I can hardly breathe."
"Isn't it wonderful?"
I went to bed.
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